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Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Walkabout Games
Developer: Atomic Wolf
Release Date: June 2, 2020


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Switch Review - 'Liberated'

by Cody Medellin on Oct. 16, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Leap into the frame of a graphic novel, where classic motion comic storytelling transitions into fully playable action sections in a story about technological surveillance squeezing society’s freedom away.

When translated into games, the comic book aesthetic is instantly eye-catching. Sometimes that takes the form of thick black lines outlining the characters against colorful and detailed backgrounds. Other times, that aesthetic is integrated into gameplay, like in Comix Zone, where you break through or jump over panels to move forward. Either way, when you consider that the style isn't used very often, its appearance commands attention. Such is the case with Liberated, a game with an aesthetic that's reminiscent of an indie comic, but the gameplay and story don't feel as realized.

In the near future, the government is using the power of algorithms to keep the peace by using your social media and other feeds to determine your societal worth and to predict if you'll commit any crimes. While many have come to accept this way of life, others have rebelled. Calling themselves the Liberated, their goal is to expose the algorithm's inner workings to give the people the chance to live free and make their own decisions. Throughout the game, you'll play roles on both sides of the argument, so you'll work to expose the government and then proceed to keep the law and order.

There are some good but familiar bits to the narrative. In games, there are parallels with the Watch_Dogs series, especially with the emphasis on data and cameras and social media. Fans of books and movies will see hints of other properties, like "1984," "Minority Report," and "V for Vendetta." Even if you don't immediately associate this with other works, you'll be familiar with its assortment of characters, like the conflicted cop, the tough lady, the pacifist that has to resort to unfamiliar means, and the young punk who does the fighting. Those are all fine and good, but the problem is that the story adds nothing to keep things interesting. Using a school disaster to fuel the need for security can be seen as bold, but the rest of the tale falls into familiar trappings. Before the game's halfway point, many people know how the tale will end, and few people will care once the title reaches its conclusion.

There are a ton of cut scenes in Liberated. The player is going to spend a decent chunk of the five-hour playtime reading cut scene text and looking at a few barely animated panels. Some of this is broken up by areas where you'll engage in Quick Time Event (QTE) button-mashing segments or making quick choices, like in a Telltale game. That seems like you have some agency about where the story goes, but you'll find that to be far from the case. You need to pass the QTEs, so the story doesn't progress until you get it right. There are a few areas where you can fail, but that's because the failure is intended. Your decisions don't matter that much, since the game ultimately funnels you into one story path. For example, you choose to take up a ride from a stranger or immediately run, but no matter what, you get into that car. It gets to the point where you wonder why you're given these mechanics if they don't matter.

Despite the feeling early on that this may be a visual novel adventure, you will see full gameplay segments, but your opinion about them will vary. There are a few puzzles, and most of them consist of you matching up lines to complete circuits or punching in codes to open gates. The puzzles are fine, but only half of them make any sense given their context, so the other half feel more like busy work than something exciting.

Most of the gameplay consists of running and gunning from a side-scrolling perspective. It takes a page from classics like Flashback in that you move with some momentum, but you can easily mitigate that by pulling out your gun and aiming to slow down your movement. It seems silly to go through entire levels while aiming and walking slowly, but you'll get used to it because there are plenty of enemies you'll need to drop and a number of them can detect your presence and return fire from off-screen. The mechanics are fine, but the gunplay can range from boring to frustrating when a sudden flood of enemies are more accurate than yuou. At the same time, you'll learn to love areas with multiple floors, since foes have a hard time aiming up or down.

What's funny is that the game contains a stealth option to break away from combat, but it feels very broken. The hiding element requires you to find specific places to duck for cover, but aside from where you're taught this technique, there aren't many cover spaces in the environment. The area for each person's walk is so large that waiting for them to get into choking range takes much longer than expected, even though those same enemies can spot you when off-screen. Just doing the sneaking walk behind a person is slow to the point that you'll give upon the mechanic and resort to running and gunning instead, especially since there's no penalty for creating a ruckus.

For many, Liberated's selling point is its aesthetics, and it is fetching — at first. The black and white comic style produces some great-looking panels, and the scenes with minimal motion still look good. During the gameplay sections, however, you'll see some of the detail get washed away, while the focus on making scenes look good also takes its toll on playability. Various things, like enemies and collectibles, are hidden by large foreground elements. Button prompts also get lost in this grayscale style, so there are times when you'll stare at a scene and wonder if you need to hit the A button to keep things moving forward. The frame rate is good enough most of the time, but the perplexing thing is the small loads between playable scenes and cut scenes. Sometimes it'll take several seconds before the game decides to "flip the page" to the next scene, and that happens often enough that you'll wonder if anything was done to optimize it.

On the audio side, Liberated works only a little bit better. The sound effects for any of the interactive segments work fine, like gunshots and tire screeches from cars. The music isn't anything special if you've heard this type of moody dystopian stuff before, but it fits well enough with the gameplay that you won't mind. The game features no voices, which is a surprise considering that the PC version has voiced every line. On one hand, this can be good for some people because the acting is fine but not amazing, but it also means that the combat can feel empty when no one says anything for long stretches.

Liberated is a game that could have been better. The premise is fine but full of clichés, and there's nothing new to make it more interesting to those who have heard these stories countless times already. The presentation is nice, but the pauses between page turns feel unnecessary considering the style. The gameplay feels repetitive, since direct violence is the only viable answer. Unless you've been dying to get this one the moment it was announced, you'd be better served putting it off for something else instead.

Score: 5.5/10

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